Sunday, October 26, 2008

Aliens and Xenophobia (Indiana Jones)

I recently watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the third time, via Netflix. While it’s a pretty enjoyable film all and all, one thing about it that irritates me is its usage of the plot element that involves aliens giving ancient humanity superior technology that allowed them to prosper. I generally have no real problem with movies drawing from paranormal ideas to supplement their storylines, but this one particularly irks me. For one thing, I know a lot of people actually believe in that sort of thing, while I find it kooky nonsense. For another, it seems indicative to me of a rather xenophobic perspective. That is, xenophobia as in fear of foreigners, not Xenomorph aliens.

The basic “ancient astronaut” hypothesis holds that extraterrestrial life forms visited Earth in the distant past and supplied aid to our ancient cultures. Among the evidence used to support this are artistic artifacts that can be interpreted to depict UFOs, aliens, etc. The main items cited as evidence are great architectural achievements of the ancient world. Proponents conclude that because these cultures are considered primitive by today’s standards that they only way they could have constructed such creations is with outside assistance, and that such assistance could only have come from extraterrestrial beings.

A popular subject cited are the pyramids of Egypt. Enormous ancient geometric stone formations with alignment to astronomical phenomena are awe-inspiring anyway, so I can understand why people would feel attracted to the idea that it would hold some greater meaning. However, the only meaning is that of the religious devotion of the Egyptian people. The Egyptians worshiped their rulers as god-kings and so built magnificent tombs in their honor, much as Western society built those great Gothic cathedrals as a form of religious worship.

The notion that the ancient Egyptians couldn’t possibly have possessed the ability to create such things seems to me to be quite naïve, not to mention Eurocentric. The way Western civilization developed is not the only way that works, nor should it be used as a standard from which to judge the rest of the world. The claims that are thrown out regarding the Egyptians as primitive people incapable of producing such architectural wonders due to poor intellect sound to me to be xenophobic, assuming that Western civilization is the only true civilization and that for any other civilization to produce such awe-inspiring structures they must have had some outside assistance. And as Western civilization could not produce similar work, the outside assistance had to have been outside of humanity entirely.

The evidence for Egyptians constructing the pyramids themselves and for their own religion, independent of aliens, is quite diverse if one bothers to properly research the subject before making wild claims. A quick Google search brings this up, for starters. To me, it’s fine if you want to believe in something extraordinary just for your own, personal enjoyment/mental well-being. The problem comes with accepting something extraordinary as doubtlessly true and intentionally influencing people with pseudoscience, especially when it promotes a harmful viewpoint such as reducing the great culture of ancient Egypt to helpless savages dependent on some great external source. This line of thinking advocates xenophobia and I deem it unhealthy to society.

I don’t fault the makers of the latest Indiana Jones movie for using a mythological/paranormal claim as their MacGuffin. That, of course, is their gimmick. However, this particular one is rather culturally insensitive and in turn becomes a corruption of the themes of the previous films. By saying that the ancient cultures had alien help, it removes the power possessed by the ancient civilizations in all of Dr. Jones’ previous adventures. The series’ transformation into science fiction robs it of its respect for humanity, instead leaving its human protagonists at the mercy of god-like beings from another dimension. The movie itself is enjoyable, but its mythological additions do the series a disservice.

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